Mr. Kelsch, my coffee chugging, slightly balding, diagnosed hyperactive, fourth grade teacher with a gravelly loudspeaker of a voice, strode into the classroom. (rapidly, of course) He hit play on the tape deck, then leapt onto the counter in front of the wide expanse of windows. His silhouette faced the bright light of the late afternoon and we, the students, held our breath in anticipation of what could not possibly be predicted. We had learned early that school year the wild one in front of us lived beyond the laws of predictability.
“Awimaweh, awimaweh, awimaweh, awimaweh,” chanted the tape deck. We watched with wide eyes and rapt attention as his knee began to bend and bounce. His tushy tipped from side to side. I believe all who were present would insist that they had never seen a less sexual tushy tip in their entire lives. His bouncing bottom soon shifted into an animated variation of Saturday Night Fever.
The song shifted and so did Mr. Kelsch as he sang out in a strained yet feverish falsetto.
“In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight!”
Suddenly the expansive counter became too meager a stage for one so wily. Mere elevation would not satisfy and Mr. Kelsch began zipping around the room. Chairs were strewn across the floor and the occasional student was roped into being a dance partner. (less tushy, more ho down) The desks had been bundled together into fours and now served as square stages born to be trampled, shimmied upon, and sung from viciously. He made his way to each foursome and boogied for our delight. He wiggled, gesticulated, and squeezed his eyes closed to wail along more emphatically.
“Awweeeeeeeeeeeee-ee-eeee-eee a we umbumbawaaaay!” We all joined in for the crescendo. Something clicked inside my nine year old brain. Here was someone acting crazy, dancing on top of desks, singing in poor pitch at high volume and breaking social mores. I’m sure many would question his antics, the mayhem and the booty shaking for children, but for me this was revolutionary. Mr. Kelsch was a straight up weirdo, and I loved him all the more for it. We all did. This was not an isolated or a rare display of passionate oddity. In this classroom, in that moment, there was no fear of being disciplined or rejected for being too loud, too out there, too enthused. Mr. Kelsch was the oddest of all. He was our king and we worshiped at the throne of his weirdness.
Mr. Kelsch, by being exactly himself, a passionate, story telling, kick-ball playing, intensely energetic fourth grade teacher, wrote me an unofficial hall pass. The hall pass read:
“Anika has Mr. Kelsch’s permission to be energetic, loud, and dramatic. She never has to stop playing kick ball or telling stories. She can grow up and still play like a child. Anika has the formal permission of the universe to be weird as hell, obnoxious as all get out, and as childish as she dares to be on any given day.”
It was a GREAT permission slip. It shocked, shook, and broke my Montana shaped world. The deviant and outlandish transfigured into viable options. I was suddenly given permission to be myself, overflowing with energy, feverishly desiring to perform and be seen, a sportsman and a show tune enthusiast all in the same body, hungry for all things ridiculous and thirsty to transcend the mundane. I’ve never been tested for ADHD, I just know I have more energy than your average bear. I think we’re all weird, but I personally was given permission in fourth grade to show people. I learned from watching my fourth grade teacher that if I didn’t fit in or stood out as goofy sometimes, people would still love me. They may even love me more for it.
Mr. Kelsch didn’t sit me down and explain this. He didn’t write it out and hand me the hall pass. If he had, I don’t think I would have remembered or believed him. Instead he lived it. He was unabashedly himself, an amazing, authentic human, who filled his classroom with laughter everyday. He did not play by the rules. For God’s sake, social studies could have been more accurately titled “story time.” By flying his freak flag proudly, he taught my young, impressionable mind, that I too could fly mine. We’re allowed to be different from each other. I could be lovable and be me.
Learning what authenticity meant for me would take a lot longer than it took to write the permission slip, but I’ve kept the hall pass. To the unsung heroes, to the unabashed weirdos, to the diagnosed with awesomeness, THANK YOU! Thank you for teaching me with the way you live how free I have always been and how free I will always be to be me.
Now it is my turn. It is my task, my glory, and my pleasure to live the truth I’ve been taught. It’s my turn to dance on tables or out of bounds. It’s my task and my glory to sing at the top of my lungs to the songs of my choosing despite or even because others can hear me. I want my words and my life and my friendships and my work to all declare what Mr. Kelsch’s fourth grade class declared to me. It’s okay to be your freaky self here. Diagnosed or undiagnosed oddballs are welcome at my table, in my classroom, and in my heart. We are all weird in our own way and uncovering that weirdness makes living life unpredictably fun and exciting. Welcome home, magnificent ones! I worship at the throne of your weirdness. May my entire life be your hall pass.